For Hanford native Manuel Casimiro, the three years he spent on board a Navy minesweeper in World War II were some of the best of his life.
Casimiro was among 68 veterans — including four from Hanford — who made the Central Valley Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., in late April.
The three-day trip aimed to honor veterans from “Greatest Generation” by giving them a tour of the nation’s capital and its many war memorials.
Casimiro, 89, said he was eager to go out and fight the Japanese after he got drafted at the age of 18. Despite the long days and dangerous conditions, Casimiro fondly remembers traveling back and forth during his time in the Navy.
“I loved it,” he said. “I stayed there for three years. It was my home. We went to the Marshall Islands. We swept a lot of mines there. Then we went to Okinawa. We stayed there two months. We went to the Philippines to get more mine gear to go to Japan. We were there for two weeks and they sent us back to Okinawa.”
For Casimiro, a second class motor machinist’s mate, the most memorable and frightening moment during his time in the Navy came when a kamikaze was headed toward his ship.
“We shot one down,” he said. “He was two or three feet above the water and it spun around for us. It was a suicide plane. We knocked it down,” Casimiro said, noting the minesweeper was damaged in the process.
Other Hanford World War II veterans who went on the trip in late April were Fayette “George” Massingill, 89; Manuel Medeiros, 91; and Bill Harrah, 90.
From birth, Massingill and his twin brother, Layette "Pat" Massingill, were inseparable. Massingill said when the war broke out it was only natural that they joined the Navy together.
After basic training in Iowa, the twins were forced to go on separate paths. Fayette was stationed in Hawaii as an aviation machinist, and his twin brother was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. But it wouldn’t take long for the brothers to be reunited.
“The Saratoga went down to India and around Australia, but they had a lot of damage due to storms,” Fayette Massingill said. “One storm was so bad that it wrecked the flight deck. So, they had to go back to the states for repairs. On their way back to San Francisco, they stopped in Hawaii and (my brother) came over to see me. Well, I said: ‘let’s go to our personnel officer and talk with him and maybe you can get stationed here.’ And he did. So, he spent the rest of the war in Hawaii with me.”
Near the end of the war, Massingill recalled hearing the news about the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“I left there in April 1945 and halfway back to San Francisco we got the news that President Roosevelt died,” he said. “And the war was just about over in Europe and it was over a couple of weeks later.”
After 70 years, Medeiros vividly remarked how long he spent in the service — three years, 11 months and seven days. Medeiros, who was pressured to join the Army Air Corps by a buddy entering that branch of the service, served as a tail gunner on a B-24 heavy bomber.
Medeiros said he most remembers his time flying in the big bombers, although he never saw combat. He later was transferred to the Air Transport Command and was required to go to radio school. “We used to ferry B-24s all over the country,” he said.
Harrah, who served as an Army mechanic and was stationed in England, will never forget the sight of planes returning from missions during the Normandy invasion.
“I can remember the planes coming back on D-Day,” Harrah said. “And some of them you just couldn’t understand how they could even stay in the air. There was so much blown off of them, in the wings, parts of the tails, but they just kept coming back home. So I thought that was fantastic.”
At the end of the three-day Washington, D.C. trip, the veterans were greeted by family, friends and strangers at Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Casimiro said he was humbled by the heroes’ welcome.
“I really liked it, but I was embarrassed a little bit,” Casimiro said, “I mean, I’d seen action and everything. I’d seen the enemy face to face and all that, but so many other guys did three times better than I did. Some of them gave their lives. I was a little embarrassed by everyone cheering us on. I was glad everyone was there — young and old — but for me I give more credit to those who lost their lives facing the enemy.”
For Harrah, the overwhelming support the veterans received throughout the trip from random strangers is something he won’t forget.
“We got respect every place we went,” Harrah said. “People would stop and clap their hands every time they saw us. And we got a good welcome once we got back to Fresno.”
Central Valley Honor Flight President Alan Perry said the flights are 100 percent funded by donations from the public.
“A lot of it comes from individuals,” Perry said. “It comes from small business — Kiwanis and Rotary — but it’s a struggle every time. We gamble every time to raise the money. It’s hard in this Valley. This isn’t Silicon Valley or Orange County.”
Perry said future plans are to take veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars on Honor Flights, but as of now World War II veterans have priority registration. As for this year, three more flights are set for June 16-18, Sept. 8-10 and Oct. 19-21.
For information on how to donate, volunteer, or apply for the trip, visit www.cvhonorflight.org.